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Slow Jams and One Night Stands: Marshall Jefferson on the Early Days of House Music

How a house legend first learnt to move his body.
January 15, 2016, 2:48pm

I grew up, like most musicians, in a musical house. My mother played the piano and the organ and we always had records on. My parents liked Lou Rawls, Motown, that sort of stuff. I was more into Cream, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. There were Black Panthers in my family and I hated the get togethers so I'd play rock music as a way of annoying them. That was my rebellion.

My parents used to take my brother and I to concerts, so by the time I finally stepped foot in an actual club, I'd been to about 20 of them. The first was James Brown, which would have taken place around 1970 or so.


The first club would have either been Dingbats, or Nimbus, both of which were in Chicago. Mr T was actually the doorman at Dingbats back then and because he was a doorman you didn't tend to notice him too much. By the time he gained any kind of notoriety he was rich and gone. Nimbus' selling point was that it had these incredibly high ceilings and, as the name suggests, they used to hang clouds from it. The DJ there was a guy called Derek Northley, and I used to watch him and notice his tricks and I thought they were great. He used to play dance music all night long and then end with six or seven slow jams. The first night I had six slow dances and a one night stand!

Going to a club back then meant one night stands, because of those slow records that'd come out at the end of the night. This was back in the late 70s and you'd go to the club and you'd be grinding and grabbing booty's and stuff and BAM, you'd got yourself a one night stand. There used to be queues outside the hotels after clubs closed. You'd sit out in your car waiting for a slot. This was a regular occurrence. It seemed like all you needed for a one night stand was a car and some money for a hotel.

I originally went to clubs for the girls, but then I started DJing and I became focused on the music. It was the girls first though.

The music then was disco or boogie stuff, so stuff by Chic or songs like "Ain't No Stopping Us Now". You'd hear Chaka Khan, Diana Ross, people like that. There was a different party I used to go to when I first started getting into DJing that was playing early house stuff. The first house record we heard was "On and On" by Jesse Saunders. I never played that one out, actually. Why? Because it was a bad record! It made me want to produce music, though, because you'd hear things like "No One Gets the Prize" by Diana Ross and think, "that's a masterpiece. I can't make something like that!" But you'd hear "On and On" and it was just a bassline and a drum pattern put together by a DJ I knew. Everyone in the scene knew him. And we all thought we could do better. Without that song none of us would have started producing. I knew I could do better so I went out and bought equipment and made better records. Or at least I hope I did.

It made producing records seem acceptable. It didn't seem impossible to make records after that. That one song gave all of us hope. We could all do it.

It was a very competitive world. The guys who made the early records were very defensive because they knew how easy it was to make house and they didn't want anyone else getting into it. In fact, "Move Your Body" got held off for a year after it was meant to be released because Jesse was blocking it at record pressing plants! Jesse and Vince Lawrence were blocking everyone's records because they wanted to be the kings of Chicago. What happened was, they got signed to Geffen and left the city so by the time outsiders got into it and people were coming to Chicago to talk about house music, they were gone. Jesse's still very proud of that record. Of course he is.

You know, if an alien came down to earth and asked me to teach them about house music in one record, I'd pick this one by Frankie and David. This would be the one.

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